The Disney That Never Was
ADAPTED FROM THE SHOW NOTES OF THE DISNEY DISH PODCAST
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a wonderfully immersive environment where guest can explore lands and animals from around the world – or even from back in time. Soon, with the opening of PANDORA – The World of Avatar, animals that exist only in fantasy will come to life. But did you know that the original plans for WDW’S fourth park included a magical, mystical land called Beastly Kingdom?
This not-so-secret plan has been hiding for years in plain sight. Have you ever noticed that Animal Kingdom signage includes a dragon along with other animals you can see in the park? Or that one of the parking lot sections is named after the Unicorn?
Here you can see a transcript from a press conference where Michael Eisner, Joe Rhode and others first announced plans for Animal Kingdom. It included a set of mythological creatures, including the infamous Loch Ness Monster!
Over the years, it was rumored (whether from official sources or fan’s imaginations run wild) that Beatstly Kingdom would include any combination of a “good side” with unicorns, centaurs, and pegasi, an “evil side” with fire breathing dragons, a Dragon Tower Coaster, a Quest for the Unicorn maze, a Fantasia Gardens attraction, and more.
But, the Animal Kingdom budget ran dry and the plans for Beastly Kingdom were put on the back burner for years. Ultimately, the land was used for the very sparse Camp Mickey Minnie until its closure in 2014. Reportedly, many of the imagineers slated to work on Beastly Kingdom left to work at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
It never got past concept art, but you can see in Joe Rhode’s original concept are that the final layout of the park is quite similar to today. Here, the Tree of Life sits at the back of Discovery Island, Expedition Everest is missing, there is a set of tracks in Dinoland that don’t appear today (stay tuned for more on that in a future issue), and there is definitely a space near Africa that Beastly Kingdom (or should we say, Beastlie Kingdomme) would have fit into quite nicely.
This closeup shows Nessie and a roller coaster track (perhaps once the Beastly Kingdom was scrapped, the park decided to build the big coaster in Asia?).
It turns out that in 1995 there was a book published about Disney Parks called Since the World Began and on page 171, there is an image of the Loch Ness monster. Apparently Joe Rhode made sure this image was included in the book in the hopes that it would increase the chances of the land being built.
According to Imagineer Paul Torringo on Mouseplanet, the Nessie was intended to be a prop for a restaurant:
One other thing I'll mention, one of my favorites—outside at the side of the castle in another part of the land, we had a restaurant on a lake and the whole little area was based on mythical sea creatures, I think it was called Loch Ness Landing, (Karen Armitage did the final interior restaurant design) and anyway, in the lagoon we were going to have the Loch Ness monster appear (to the distant sound of bagpipes) from time to time. First you would hear a strange sound from the water, then bubbling would start, then you'd see the humps of the back of the creature surfacing, then finally the giant head would rise up out of the water and gaze at all the people on shore. What a photo spot!
I made a bunch of conceptual renderings and little sculptures for it and then Gene Wiskerson sculpted the creature in a bigger scale a couple of times to get it just the way Joe wanted it. I was really disappointed we didn't get to do it; I think it would have been great.
Paul Torringo also spoke about “The Dragon Ride” – revealing that the story centered around an evil dragon who ravaged a medieval castle long ago, and still lived there in a huge chamber guarding his treasure. Bats who lived in the castle had armed themselves with medieval weaponry to fight the dragon for the treasure. It was intended to be a suspended coaster, housed in an immensed, ruined castle complete with interactive queues, animated characters, and the kids of detailed theming we’ve come to expect in Animal Kingdom.
An exterior river ride would continue the story, and here the dragon would breathe fire at passing boats.
One the “good” side of Beastly Kingdom, guest would have found themselves in an elaborate maze with the goal of finding a unicorn. There was also supposed to be a flume ride in this area. The Beastly Kingdom land would have been absolutely massive.
Although now it seems that the Beastly Kingdom has become a part of the Disney That Never Was, we’re looking forward to how PANDORA - The World of Avatar can bring to life Animal Kingdom’s original intention of presenting animals - real, extinct, and imaginary.